Kylee Toth - Getting Kids Skiing Uphill
Kylee Toth shares her story on how she managed to get her kids to enjoy their first backcountry turns...
I have been a Skimo racer for close to ten years now. I started racing before I had kids. During my skimo career, I have had two awesome little boys. They are now 5 and 7 years old and proficient little downhill skiers. I absolutely love the movement of ski touring, ascending and descending mountains. I was eager to share my passion with my sons, Solomon and Zeke. In early November we had the opportunity to go to Purcell Mountain Lodge in British Columbia, Canada. This is a backcountry lodge that is a gorgeous venue to do some touring as a family.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of child or youth touring gear out there. So with some creativity, a lot of patience and persistence I put together two great setups and the kids enjoyed some of their first backcountry turns. I found that it takes some trial and error to get little kids out touring, so I hope you can learn from some of our successes and failures and pick up tips and tricks to get your kids out with ease.
First up…the equipment. I bought almost everything at second-hand stores in our area and put together two very economical setups. Each child had alpine skis, alpine boots, skins, trekkers and poles. It took a few evenings to get the gear dialed in, but this setup worked great.
• Skins: I picked up used cross country ski skins at a second-hand store. Kids skis are narrow, so XC skins work great. Look for mohair skins, as it is easier for a child to slide their ski than to step the ski. I had to rig up tip and tail attachments to fit the kid’s skis. This isn’t that different from fitting adult skins with tip and tail attachments. Kids have poor skinning technique, so you definitely need full skins with both attachments so that the skins stay on the skis.
• Alpine Skis: Regular alpine skis work great.
• Bindings: Make sure the skis have bindings that are adjustable without the use of a screwdriver. You will need to remove the trekkers and make the bindings smaller for the child to descend.
• Trekkers: I found these at a second-hand store. Junior trekkers are best, but hard to find. Adult trekkers will work; you just have to drill additional holes in the metal to fit the boot properly.
• Boots: Normal downhill ski boots
Good skinning technique actually involves some gliding when the terrain isn’t that steep. Try to teach your kids to slide their feet instead of stomping or stepping. The sliding works best with mohair skins. A child’s setup is pretty heavy in proportion to their weight, so this technique saves a lot of energy.
While deep powder is super fun for adults with strong quads and developed ski skills, skiing powder for a child who is barely a meter tall is quite a daunting task. It snowed 75cm in 24 hours when we were at the lodge. This was awesome but difficult for young skiers. I found that having them ski in my tracks, doing a “choo, choo train” style descent was a successful strategy. It’s both really fun and effective, it keeps them skiing in your tracks.
Most of the terrain I chose to ski was very low angle because I didn’t want the kids in avalanche danger. When the terrain was very mellow they enjoyed straight lining through the powder. But be warned! When they bail in a lot of powder you should be nearby to help pick them up, as they are literally swimming in snow! If you tour on a cat road or wide trail that is more compact, it will be much easier for your kids to descend.
Kids are not your normal touring buddies. Kid’s attention spans are shorter, they tire easier and usually whine more (unless you have very whinny ski touring buddies). PATIENCE is the name of the game when getting kids into touring.
The first time we toured with our boys we literally ascended a 165-foot slope, with 2 snack breaks and some tears! For a skimo racer like me who is used to a short day being over 1700 feet, this felt incredibly painful. Keep your objective short and the emphasis on having fun!
My seven year old found the balance quite quickly and picked up the movement with far more ease than the 5-year-old. We stayed at Purcell Lodge for 10 days. By the last day, Solomon, (7 years old) ascended over 700 feet. Zeke (5 years old), ascended about 350 feet and I towed him the rest of the way.
For me, the goal of sharing outdoor activity and sport with my children is for them to start to feel the movement and fall in love with being outside. I am not trying to develop them into skimo racing protégés; I just want to share my passion for being in the mountains with them. Don’t be objective driven, be experience driven. Make it a fun experience.
We would build a snow fort with snow chairs at the transition area with my avalanche shovel every time we got to the top. We would celebrate by having a hot chocolate and cookie party! It’s about making memories, not fitness or training. Be imaginative and creative, try to put yourself in their shoes and see the world through their eyes…it’s pretty magical!
To Tow or Not to Tow?
Towing is a great technique ski mountaineer racers use in team racing to assist a tired or weaker partner. It is incredibly helpful for the person being towed to conserve some energy and actually isn’t too hard on the person towing. I always carry a tow rope (an old climbing rope or some sort of accessory cord) when I tour with my children. The rope is really useful if your child gets fatigued or you want to push a little further, but they are tiring.
For the towing setup, the child and adult each wear a climbing harness. You attach to each other using figure eight knots and carabineers, keeping about 3 meters of rope between you. Using a climbing harness really helps to distribute the weight more evenly on your body and is more comfortable for both the tower and the person being towed. I found this only works for terrain that doesn’t involve kick turns.
If your child is less than 50lbs, like my 5-year-old, it is actually really easy to tow them from the start and forego skins and trekkers all together. I mostly towed my kids without skins on their skis, (a dead weight pull). An older child would have the balance to leave their skins on.
What’s the Point?
So, it seems like a lot of work to get your kids out there. Why not just cross country ski? Why not just downhill ski? Why bother? Well, I’d be lying if I said all those questions haven’t crossed my mind. For me, the answer is, I love the movement of ski touring and it gets you into unique, quiet and beautiful terrain high in the mountains that is unique to alpine touring.
After 10 days of ski touring at the lodge, both of my boys were hooked! They absolutely loved it and couldn’t wait for their turn to go to the summit each day. After our mountain lodge experience, they even competed in the first Skimo Race of the Canadian circuit, the Vert 180 at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary in December 2018. The 7-year-old completed 900 feet and the 5-year-old completed 450 feet. I saw a sense of satisfaction, pride and confidence in them that I hadn’t seen before. Their first mountains summited on skis, it was a beautiful thing!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kylee Toth Ohler is a member of the La Sportiva Ski Team.
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